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Hamas Activist Killed by Israeli Troops - 2003-02-18

Israeli troops killed a Hamas activist in a West Bank raid Tuesday as part of its new offensive against the Islamic militant group. The troops also arrested three Palestinian women suspected by Israel of planning to carry out suicide bombings. The offensive is taking place against the backdrop of renewed efforts to get the peace process back on track.

Israel radio says Israeli troops shot and killed a Hamas activist as he tried to flee when soldiers confronted him outside his home in the West Bank town of Yatta. The army said he was armed. He was identified by Palestinian sources as Mohammed Mora, a 27-year-old member of Hamas.

The army also said it arrested three Palestinian women. Israeli officials said the women were planning to carry out suicide bombings. The women were said to be from the West Bank towns of Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour and the Dheisheh refugee camp, all of which are located just south of Jerusalem.

The vast majority of the more than 80 suicide bombers in the past 29 months of fighting have been men, most of them from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group.

The Israeli offensive against Hamas follows a bomb attack on an Israeli tank last Friday in which four soldiers were killed.

Israeli media are reporting that the army is planning a major strike against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in the next few days.

For its part, Hamas is threatening more attacks on Israelis in retaliation for the deaths of eight members of its military wing in the past three days.

Meanwhile, after months of no contacts between the two sides, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met over the weekend with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad, his second meeting with a senior Palestinian official in the past few days.

A senior aide to Mr.Sharon is also reported to have been holding truce talks with the Palestinian interior minister.

And, in London, Palestinian and Israeli delegations are to meet this week for talks on Palestinian government reform and international aid to the Palestinian Authority.